Everyone that’s spent some time here knows all about those moments of culture shock in Taiwan.
The truth is, most people who live in a place far from where they consider “home” will have significant moments of culture shock. These feelings can creep up on you or simply blindside you, whether you’ve been here a day or a decade. What’s worse is, in those moments, you desire two things: things that feel “like home” and a lack of things that “feel foreign.”
Culture shock can exhibit in many ways. A lot of people think of it like “shell shock,” imagining expats climbing the walls and crying about how they miss their mommies. I won’t tell you that doesn’t ever happen, because obviously it does (and it can be disastrous), and can sometimes happen as soon as you get off the plane.
But that’s not the most common form of culture shock.
Culture shock can hit you anywhere, even in the town where you’ve lived your whole life. The core of culture shock are those times when you think “I’m so sick of this place.” All of us, at some point in our lives, feel that way. The farther away from your roots you choose grow, the more likely it will be that these feelings come upon you.
There’s many ways to deal with culture shock, no matter how far away from those roots you might be. Here in Taiwan, some people find comfort in going out to an “expat bar/pub” or simply hanging with other friends from their homelands: being able to converse in your native tongue with others who feel the same is invaluable. On the other hand, some people may want to curl up on the couch with a bowl of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup.
I frequently find myself grouped with the latter. For those like me who are looking to board-up their doors and windows for a weekend, the most important resources are found on the internet. YouTube provides endless hours of tumbling down a link-hole but, unfortunately, things like Hulu and Netflix are inaccessible outside of the USA. Pandora, as well.
Most of us here, in a land where piracy law is less enforced than jaywalking, use a Bit Torrent service to download television, movies, and music that we’re familiar with. I often watch shows here in Taiwan before my friends back in the USA finally get to them on their DVR. I use The Pirate Bay or IsoHunt to locate what I want, then use Tixati to download them. I don’t get cable: I just get the internet (at a speed of 20Mps for US$25 a month).
Then there are things called “Virtual Private Networks,” or “VPN.” VPN is simply a way to bounce your computer’s signal off a server in a different country, gaining access to that country’s internet protocols. If you’ve ever wondered how citizens of the People’s Republic of China manage to get on Facebook, that’s how. Unfortunately, VPN can be a bit technical for a layperson, and the good ones usually cost money.
Fortunately, as always, I’ve got your back: a fantastic browser-based VPN called Hola. And if you have an Android phone, Hola is also a free app. Hola makes it easy to do everything from listening to Pandora to watching Netflix, often to the envy of friends who glance at your computer screen, having no idea that it exists.
I use Hola and a Bit Torrent client every day, but when I’m feeling that culture shock and want to be left alone, these things are utterly invaluable.
But the internet doesn’t stop there!
One of the most vital things about experiencing major culture shock is McDonald’s delivery in Taiwan.
Anyone that hasn’t lived far enough away from their comfort zone will never understand what it’s like for a Southerner in Boston to miss a low country boil, or a Bostonian in Atlanta wondering why there’s no decent chowder. The truly crazy times come when you live so far away that you crave things you wouldn’t otherwise crave. You couldn’t pay me to eat McDonald’s food in the USA, but here in Taiwan, I am known to eat McDonald’s on occasion.
This is actually my second blog involving McDonald’s, with the first being about how to get free food/drink from McDonald’s. I can understand any feelings you may have about me, because of that, but rest assured that I (despite being very American) rarely eat at McDonald’s. That being said, sometimes I do, and when I do, I do so deliberately. I was actually lucky enough to have a McDonald’s right around the corner from my apartment here in Taichung, Taiwan.
Sadly, around two months ago, they tore down the building, and McDonald’s is gone from my neighborhood for the next year. To make matters worse, the grocery store next to it also got gutted a month ago, pending creation of a new store that will include (you guessed it) a brand new McDonald’s. I believe the majority of this construction is due to the Taichung rapid transit system being constructed (which I’ve also written about before), in an attempt to capitalize off future traffic.
So I can no longer simply walk a block to the grocery store when I need something, nor can I walk a block to McDonald’s when I crave something. Adding insult to injury, the nearest grocery store and McDonald’s to me are located a mile-or-so away on WenXin Road: the road with all the construction on it. Please don’t think that I’m unaware of how spoiled and lazy I sound right now. Just understand that, after a few years, you become accustomed to certain things, and when they disappear, it sucks. But we adapt.
But, once again, the internet comes to our rescue, with a common service in Asia that is unheard of in other parts of the world: 24-hour McDonald’s Delivery. Delivery is actually a huge service in Asia; you can get almost anything delivered! The problem is, unless you speak Chinese, it’s going to be a colossal hassle to take advantage of this awesome aspect of Taiwanese culture.
While McDonald’s does their best to help customers who can’t read Mandarin, offering an English option on their site, signing up for McDonald’s service requires an understanding of Chinese. While the sign-up will be entirely in English, once it comes time to enter your address information, the page turns into this:
You can’t even just copy/paste your address into a field. It makes you break it down, item by item, between city, district, street, address, apartment number, and much more. So, if you’re at a hotel, ask the front desk to help you out. If you’re here working, get a coworker to help. This is the only time you will ever need Chinese assistance on the site. Ordering is indescribably easy:
You just click what you want; if what you want has a Value Meal option, it pops up
and you just select what you want.
Your order will continue to populate on the right of the page until you click “Check Out.”
As it happens, the free 4-piece McNuggets retails for $55NT; considering the delivery fee is only $35NT (i.e. one US dollar), if you want a lot of food, it’s a great deal. Payment is made in cash upon delivery, so you don’t have to provide any information beyond your name/address/phone, and despite the clever wording on that jar at the bar back home, there is no tipping in China.
After you’re registered, you’re in the system forever and can easily order on-the-fly, any time you want. The best time to order is between 10pm and 4am, when you can get a BOGO large french fries. Now that I think of it, it’s probably a good thing we don’t have this service in the USA…
McDonald’s will even send you e-mail updates regarding your order’s progress. They usually claim a 30-to-45-minute wait time, but I find it rarely takes them more than a half hour from my clicking to their knocking.
For those times where you just want to close the curtains, binge-watch Breaking Bad, and pretend you’re back in Kansas, the internet is your absolute best friend. Those moments of culture shock in Taiwan happen, but if you’re prepared for them, you can pretty easily weather the storm, especially using methods like these to help you realize what a cool part of the world you’re living in.
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